One of the smallest states in the world and longest standing republic of the world, 61 square km of Most Serene Republic of San Marino is surrounded by Italy (Emilia-Romagna and Marche are the closest Italian regions to travel from) from all sides. We had a short drive there from Rimini, and it took about 30 mins to get to the City of San Marino, the historical capital of the state, surrounded by ancient stone walls enclosing just a few streets. As this is an independent country, you can even shop duty free goods there!
There are three towers (or maybe a better wording is fortresses although they’re called ‘torri’) that together make an easily recognisable symbol of San Marino. They are everywhere: on the flag and coat of arms of San Marino, on the doors, on the ceramics, wherever you look. They played the biggest role in the military history of the state, especially in the conflict with the House of Malatesta from Rimini nearby.
The saint patron of San Marino, as you might’ve guessed, is Saint Marinus, born in Dalmatia (today’s Croatia) who founded a monastery on Mount Titano in 301 AD.
1. Mount Titano
Mount Titano is seen from far away because it’s one of the highest points around that area. Going 739 metres up, this is the space where the historical centre has been enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. When you climb it up, you’re rewarded with fantastic views over San Marino territory and Italy.
2. Three towers
When you approach Mount Titano, you can spot all three towers, the most prominent symbol of San Marino. When you’re in the historical centre, you can visit two of them: Rocca Guaita (Prima Torre, first tower) and Castello della Cesta, or De La Fratta (Seconda Torre, second tower). The Rocca Guaita, the oldest of three towers, dates back to the 11th century and has a museum of armoury inside. Today’s appearance of this fortress mostly dates back to the 15ht century. The bird-eye’s views from it are astonishing! You’ll need a ticket to go inside, our allowed entrance to a few sights including Palazzo Pubblico was very convenient.
The Castello della Cesta marks the very top of Mount Titano going all the way up to 755 above the sea level. As the etymology suggests, it’s been used as an observational point by Romans but it’s first mentioned by its mediaeval name in documents in 1253.
The third tower, Torre del Montale, sadly, is not open to the public but I believe you can still walk around it.
3. Passo delle Streghe
The towers are linked by Witches’ Passage, or Passo delle Streghe, a cobbled path ranging from slippery narrow parts to the wide areas with shops and cafes. It’s a really photogenic spot although it was packed with tourists during our trip.
4. Piazza della Libertà
Piazza della Libertà is a main square of the city that celebrates the state’s independence with a fountain of Liberty in its centre. It overlooks the picturesque landscape around and has a few cafes and restaurants. The main landmarks of the city are located here (see below).
We had lunch there and then returned for some delicious snacks: dessert Torta Tre Monte (the waffle triangle in the photo), non-alcoholic cocktail with local honey and mascarpone with strawberries.
5. Palazzo Pubblico
Palazzo Pubblico is a gorgeous 19th century building erected on the site of 14th century Domus Magna Communis. This is where the government of San Marino sits. The unmissable sight is located on the 3rd floor: the Council Hall with gorgeous decorations. When looking from the outside, you can spot three saints placed on the Palazzo Publoco’s tower: St. Marinus, St. Agatha, and St. Leo.
During our visit there was a small exhibition dedicated to the British monarchs from Victoria to Elizabeth II. You can also spot guards in font of the Palazzo Publico in vibrant uniforms and watch the guards change if you visit in high season (between June and mid-September).
6. Basilica di San Marino
Basilica di San Marino dating back to 1825 is another unmissable landmark of the city. It is a Neo-classical building erected on the site where another church of 4th-5th century once stood. We only had a glimpse of it from the outside because the wedding was planned to take place there later that day (you can see ladies decorating the basilica with flowers in advance).
7. Piazza Garibaldi
Piazza Garibaldi is a small but busy square framed with arched walkways a few steps away from the main square of the city. There is a Coin and Stamp museum, a few terraces and a monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi created by Stefano Galletti in 1882. Btw, another piazza to see is Piazza del Titano!
If you continue walking from the Piazza Garibaldi towards the city walls, you’ll see Porta della Fratta, one of the entrances to the historic city!
8. Museums of San Marino
San Marino might be small but it’s full of museums! You can also learn about the history of the state in the State Museum of San Marino (Musei di Stato). And I was surprised how many museums of entertainment are concentrated in the historical centre of San Marino: Museum of Wax, Museum of Vampires, Museum of tortures, Museum of Curiosities, Maranello Rosso Ferrari Museum with vintage cars… As I’ve mentioned there’s also a museum of stamps and coins. Let me know in the comments if you happen to visit any of them.
9. San Marino’s Funivia
Probably the best way to enjoy the views and simultaneously visit local landmarks is to have a ride on a local cable car San Marino’s Funivia going from Borgo Maggiore up to the Città. The ride lasts only a few minutes and cable cars leave every 15 mins but the real problem with it is that you can get stuck in a car parking queue (a really chaotic one) easily, so I’d advise you to arrive before 11am.
10. Festivals of San Marino: Giornate Medioevali
San Marino is well known for its festivals throughout the year. We were lucky to attend the annual mediaeval festival called Giornate Medioevali which took place from the 28th of July to the 1st of August 2022.
The official map of the event is enclosed below too – as you see, there are spots of medieval celebrations everywhere!
This year marked the 25th anniversary of this festival! The dressed up locals with musical instruments walking along the streets, shop at the mediaeval market and to watch a ‘real’ elephant slowly walking along the streets felt very authentic.
If you are ready to explore more of San Marino, you can also visit Borgo Maggiore, Serravalle, Faetano, Montegiardino, Acquaviva, Chiesanuova, Domagnano, and Fiorentino, small administrative districts around the historical centre I’ve been talking about above. Usually they’re called Castelli.
You can also like my blogs about neighbouring Italy:
- photoshoot in Rome,
- your guide to Rome,
- Lake Garda,
Hope you liked my blog!